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Web may revolutionize fundraising

In race for the presidency, Democrat Howard Dean is turning heads with online money-making prowess.

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Two years after the dot-com boom went bust, it's finally taking off in the world of presidential politics.

While candidates have been fundraising via the Internet for some time, this year's contenders are taking the online money hunt to new levels, using technology to generate support in far more creative - and central - ways.

The new techniques are already playing a significant role in shaping the Democratic primary battle, getting more ordinary citizens involved earlier and shifting influence from big to small donors. If the trend continues, observers say it could transform the entire political process.

The leading figure in all this is former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who, through a network of websites and blogs, has cultivated a devoted Internet following that helped him beat out other Democratic contenders in last quarter's fundraising totals.

This week, Dr. Dean drew more attention when he challenged online supporters to match the amount Vice President Dick Cheney was expected to raise at a luncheon in South Carolina - and wound up nearly doubling the amount, raising more than half a million dollars in three days.

What makes Dean's effort significant, experts say, is that while Mr. Cheney's trip required several hours of his time and a costly flight on Air Force Two, Dean was able to raise his money virtually for free. And while the donors at Cheney's luncheon all contributed the maximum $2,000 allowed under new campaign finance laws, the majority of those giving to Dean were small donors - the average contribution was $52.87.

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